Suicide attackers in a truck launched an assault Tuesday on a luxury hotel commonly used by foreigners in Peshawar, firing guns as they stormed past guards and then setting off a huge blast that killed at least 11 people and wounded 70 more, according to reports in Pakistan.
At least three Westerners were among the dead and three more foreigners were injured, reports CBS News' Sami Yousafzai.
As of 2 p.m. ET, a U.S. official said no Americans had been killed and all U.S. consulate officials had been accounted for, reports CBS News' Charlie Wolfson.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the largest city in Pakistan's restive northwest, but a senior security official said in a published report that authorities suspect Taliban militants loyal to Baitullah Mehsud, a notorious militant leader fighting in the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderlands, reports CBS News' Farhan Bokhari.
The attack fit with Taliban threats to stage a campaign of assaults in retaliation for a military campaign against militants in the Swat Valley region.
Television footage showed part of the Pearl Continental Hotel had been demolished in the blast, reduced to concrete rubble and twisted steel. The scene was pandemonium, with armed police rushing around and Pakistani men standing by looking stunned. One man held a bloodied rag to his head.
A large crater was blasted into the ground.
A hotel staff member said most the foreign guests staying at the hotel were working to aid Pakistanis displaced by fighting in the Swat Valley, reports Yousafzai
An AP reporter saw six foreigners being helped out of the hotel. They all had wounds and at least two of them had bandages around their heads. One of them said, "We work for UNHCR," referring to the U.N.'s refugee organization. He also said that officials from U.N.'s World Food Program were also staying at the hotel.
|Photos: Pakistan Hotel Attack|
Pakistani volunteers carry a dead body wrapped in a white sheet out of the debris of the Peshawar Pearl Continental hotel building that collapsed the day before by a suicide blast in Peshawar, Pakistan on Wednesday, June 10, 2009. (Photo: AP)
UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond in Geneva said a staff member was killed, but declined to give any further details because the person's family was yet to be informed.
The British Foreign Office said that one British national was injured in the blast.
According to authorities, two cars containing gunmen and a third vehicle packed with explosives were used in the attack, reports CBS News' Amir Latif.
Witnesses described three men riding in a truck approaching the main gate of the hotel and opening fire at security guards as they entered the gates, police official Liaqat Ali said.
Saleem Khan, a hotel security guard who was wounded in the attack, said at a nearby hospital: "They started firing on our security guards; we started firing on them after that. They reached near the building and then blew up the vehicle."
The method matched that of a May 27 attack on buildings belonging to police and a regional headquarters of Pakistan's top intelligence agency in the eastern city of Lahore, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility. In that attack, a small group opened fire on security guards to get through a guard post and then detonated an explosive-laden van.
A senior security official speaking to the Financial Times from Peshawar said the attack was likely to have been carried out by Taliban militants loyal to Mehsud.
"We had intelligence reports suggesting that Baitullah Mehsud was planning such an attack. He is the top on our list of suspects" said the official.
A Taliban sub commander of Mehsud said the hotel was a headquarters for U.S. spies, reports Yousafzai.
"God willing, all such places in … Pakistan would be attacked," the commander said.
Western diplomats warned Tuesday's attack showed that the Taliban, who appear to be retreating in Swat, are still able to retaliate by carrying out major terrorist operations, reports Bokhari.
"Even while appearing to be militarily defeated in Swat, the Taliban are capable of causing great trouble for Pakistan" said one diplomat in Islamabad.
Last month, at least 35 people were killed and nearly 300 injured in Lahore, the country's second largest city, when two men drove a van packed with explosives to the main office of the Pakistan's intelligence agency. Officials suspected a close link between the Lahore bombers and Mehsud, reports Bokhari.
"These attacks are becoming part of a desperate attempt by the Taliban to deter the Pakistani state from confronting them" said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a respected commentator on political and security affairs. "War against the Taliban seems to be gradually but surely spreading all across Pakistan".
Police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said that so far 65 wounded people had been shifted to various hospitals.
An injured man, Jawad Chaudhry, said he was in his room on the ground floor when he heard gunshots and then a big bang.
"The floor under my feet shook. I thought the roof was falling on me. I ran out. I saw everybody running in panic," he said. "There was blood and pieces of glass everywhere."
He said he several people were lying on floor with wounds, and some of them seemed to be unconscious.
Jamal Khan, a chef at the hotel, blundered out, covered in dust and his apron spattered with blood.
"I was busy as usual cooking when I heard a deafening bang," he said. "I tumbled and hit a wall. I do not know how I managed to come out. I just heard people crying in pain and crying for help."
The Pearl Continental, affectionately called the "PC" by Pakistanis, is relatively well-guarded and set far back from the main road and overlooking a golf course and a historic fort. It is located just over a mile from the city's airport.
Parking in front of the structure is heavily restricted, and to get to the front doors of the building, a car has to undergo security checks and travel around concrete and metal barriers.
The hotel is a favorite place for foreigners and elite Pakistanis to stay and socialize, making it a high-profile target for militants.
A senior police officer, Shafqatullah Malik, said initial calculations suggested the blast was caused by more than half a ton of explosive such RDX, a powerful industrial and military explosive.
Last year, a massive bombing at Islamabad's Marriott Hotel killed more than 50 people and wounded dozens, rattling the nation.
Farahnaz Ispahani, spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari and the ruling party, condemned the attack.
"We will not bow down. We will not be cowed by these people," she said. "We will root them out. We will fight them and we will win. This is Pakistan's unity and integrity that is at stake."
Lou Fintor, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, said all diplomatic personnel were accounted for. "At this point we have no reports that any Americans were at the scene," he said.
Northwest provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the attack was likely in retaliation for the offensive against the Taliban in Swat, which the military says it is winning.
The military offensive in Swat and surrounding districts began in late April, and officials have blamed a handful of suicide attacks since on Taliban attempts to seek revenge.
Nonetheless, there appears to still be generally broad support for the Swat offensive, which the military says has killed more than 1,300 militants.